There are over 500 different varieties of pasta in Italy. Many are named after objects they resemble, so penne means ‘pens’ as they look like the ends of quill pens. Farfalle means ‘butterflies’, and orecchiette means ‘small ears’. Some, however, make little sense: strozzapreti means ‘priest stranglers’.
For Italians who are serious about their pasta, there is a set of practices that govern which sauce is regarded as appropriate to which pasta shape. Penne (and other hollow shapes) are best served with a liquid sauce such as tomato which will coat the quills inside and out, whereas a pesto sauce would struggle to get inside. Pesto sauces might be served with orecchiette, which have little depressions in which the sauce will sit. A creamy salmon sauce tends to be served with farfalle because it’s a relatively small pasta shape with a large surface area to which thicker sauces cling well. Parmesan is not put on fresh tomato sauce, and to put it on fish would be considered an actual outrage.
This isn’t either pompous or prescriptive; if you want to serve the 'wrong' sauce with a particular pasta shape, nobody will care – it’s just that these are people who eat a lot of pasta, and have worked out the optimum way to do so. One might compare it with the English convention which links mint sauce with lamb, apple sauce with pork, and horseradish with beef. If you wanted to arrange things differently, you could - but it probably wouldn’t occur to you.
From 1928, as part of his bid to make Italy self-sufficient, free from the 'slavery' of imported wheat, Mussolini pushed rice as a crucial home-grown alternative to pasta. A National Day for Rice Propaganda was instituted and the National Rice Board worked tirelessly to bring rice to the nation, using special lorries carrying free bags of rice and samples of risotto. These efforts largely failed, especially in the South; the lack of a rice-eating tradition meant it was chiefly associated with First World War soldiers’ rations and being too poor to afford pasta.
In 1930, the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti wrote a 'Manifesto of Futurist Cooking' which called for the abolition of pasta, citing it as paralysing the Italian intellect, making them lethargic, pessimistic and sentimental. As was undoubtedly his intention, this caused outrage, with the Duke of Bovino insisting that 'The angels in Paradise eat nothing but vermicelli al pomodoro'. Marinetti replied that this merely confirmed his suspicions about the monotony of Paradise.
Those who forget the pasta are condemned to reheat it.
Spaghetti Bolognese is not called that in Bologna: it’s called ragú and is generally eaten with tagliatelle. The sauce is meat, rather than tomato-based. Until 200 years ago, when tomatoes first became widely available in Italy, it was made entirely without them. According to a 2007 survey (admittedly by Lloyd Grossman Sauces, who happen to make a Bolognese sauce) spag bol is the most popular dish in England. The average Briton eats 2,960 portions of it in a lifetime. More than six million people in the UK eat it at least once a week. British cooking is not very adventurous, with most of us living on around four regular dishes. Other favourites include bangers and mash, fish and chips and stew. Chicken tikka masala came seventh.
Many cooks who add salt to the pan think they are making the water boil at a higher temperature and hence cooking the spaghetti quicker. In fact this effect is infinitesimal, and the only real difference is in the taste. Spaghetti carbonara is not a traditional Italian dish: it was cobbled together using the bacon, eggs and cheese airlifted to Italy by the US after the Second World War.